OFFICIALS at Wetherby Racecourse report demand for tickets to be “off the charts” ahead of its season-opening National Hunt fixture.
Today’s meeting will be the first time that spectators have been present at the popular West Yorkshire course since March 2020 shortly before the Covid pandemic struck.
Chief executive Jonjo Sanderson reports that advance ticket sales for the Premier Enclosure are 300 per cent up compared to the corresponding raceday two years ago.
He also says staff have been inundated with advance bookings for the flagship Charlie Hall Chase fixture at the end of October – and Wetherby’s traditional two-day Christmas meeting.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We were quite cautious and we were expecting caution, but the advance bookings have been going off the charts.”
Sanderson says it is too early to tell whether this is a result of people choosing to book tickets in advance rather than turning up on the day.
However he’s encouraged by the response of racegoers so far and says it vindincates the course’s decision to build a new main entrance over the summer.
More spacious than the previous entrance, it includes an area for guests to meet friends. It’s also been designed to reflect Wetherby’s decision to become a cashless venue when it comes to the purchase of tickets.
The first of 19 National Hunt and Flat fixtures, today’s main race is run in memory of Bobby Renton, the Ripon trainer who saddled Freebooter to win the 1950 Grand National.
A competitive card also features the Peter Beaumont Memorial Chase – a family tribute to the much-respected and much-loved Brandsby trainer who died last year. Beaumont is the last Yorkshireman to have saddled the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup following the win of Jodami in 1993.
Meanwhile Sanderson says the course will pay a tribute to owner Trevor Hemmings whose death on Monday night stunned the sport.
His three Grand National winners included Many Clouds who was a wide margin winner at Wetherby in December 2013 before winning jump racing’s ultimate test at Aintree in 2015.
In other news, the 2021 Flat jockeys’ championship is set to go down to the wire after William Buick rode a treble at Leicester yesterday, including the final two winners on the card.
It now sees the St Leger-winning rider trail his great rival Oisin Murphy by four winners – with the outcome settled this Saturday at Ascot as part of Qipco British Champions Day.
Murphy, who rode a winner earlier on the card, has seen his lead eroded in recent days as he bids to become the first Flat jockey since Richard Hughes (2012-14) to win three successive titles. His caused was not helped by a failed alcohol breath test at Newmarket that saw him miss last Friday’s high-profile card.
Coincidentially, it is 10 years since the title battle between Malton’s Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa was settled in the former’s favour on the final day of the 2011 season.
Then, the campaign ended at Doncaster in early November – the traditional end to the Flat season – before the cut-off was brought forward to Champions Day so not to clash with international fixtures like the Breeders’ Cup.
Both Murphy and Buick go head-to-head at Nottingham today.